Last night at Skainos



Graffiti is a bit like tweeting, you have to squeeze your ideas into a tight little package. Which is what those who objected to the event in the Skainos Centre did when they sprayed ‘Taigs Out’ and…what was the other one? …’No IRA bombers‘. So little thought in such few words.

Those who were at the event  inside the Skainos Centre would have seen Pat Magee, the man who set the Brighton bomb and Jo Berry, whose father was killed by the bomb, sitting side by side. Against every expectation, the two are friends.This wasn’t achieved by either of the two abandoning anything. Clearly Jo Berry can’t cast off the grief that her father’s death created. But she can and is dealing with that grief in a constructive way, by showing how good can grow out of horror.

Pat Magee last night – as he always does in such talks – made it clear that he is not seeking forgiveness for what he did. He made a conscious choice, he told his audience, to join the IRA at the age of twenty, and as an IRA volunteer he chose to set the bomb that killed Anthony Berry and others. Although now keenly aware of the suffering he has created, he accepts responsibility for his actions

Magee is a highly intelligent man (he has a Ph D – although you’re right, Virginia,  that doesn’t guarantee intelligence). He has thought about his life, the road he took, the results of those decisions. He has found a way in which, while not saying “I was totally wrong, I apologise”, to reach out to someone whose life was fractured by his actions.

Jo Berry is a remarkable woman. Clearly a woman of high intelligence as well as enormous empathy, she has found a way to become friends with a man for whom it would have been so easy to cultivate loathing and rejection. She could have spent her life nursing her pain and lobbying politicians to reject all that Magee stood and stands for. Instead she has made a leap of understanding which surely humbles us all.

If you want to see reconciliation and progress, look at and listen to Pat Magee and Jo Berry. If you want to see  gnat-sized thought and self-destructive hatred, consider the messages sprayed on the Skainos Centre. We are blessed to live in a world that has people like Pat Magee and Jo Berry. We are cursed to live in a world that contains  East Belfast’s graffiti-artists.

9 Responses to Last night at Skainos

  1. Barry Fennell January 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    An incisive piece on an emotive and challenging area of transition and change. Unfortunately the ethos of the talk and the journeys towards understanding from both Jo and Patrick were overshadowed. What happened outside the room has to be understood as what went on inside as well. This is courageous peacebuilding work and I very much applaud it. I have been to a number of similar sessions hosted in West Belfast were former loyalist prisoners have exhibited, performed, spoken and engaged unlike East Belfast however the atmosphere, welcome and acceptance was very different and something that is unique to this part of the world. We have to move on and this does require doing uncomfortable things.

  2. Areyouforreal January 31, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    We are blessed to live in a world that has Pat Magee in it? Seriously? … We live in a world that has less people in it than it should because he blew them of the face of it. Blessed when he leaves it.

  3. Pointis January 31, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    The straight facts would seem to suggest that some people really don’t want peace if it involves any type of compromise with Nationalists or worse still Republicans.

    We all like to forget that 29% of the population of the North (largely made up of supporters of the DUP) voted against the peace afforded through the Good Friday Agreement and quite a few of them haven’t changed their stance as is clear from the Fleg protestors and those champions of peace at camp twaddle!

    There is always a positive in every adversity and let’s remember that somewhere in East Belfast last night there wasn’t a foreign family having their home or property attacked or a bus shelter or telephone box being vandalised!

  4. Neill January 31, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    The violence was completely wrong.

    I take my hat off to J Berry to be able to forgive Magee if it was my dad he killed it would be fair to say my response would be very different.

    • Geri Timmons January 31, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

      Or so you say? How easy it is to sit on the side lines passing judgement when it was not your father. You have not a clue how you would react 30 years later unless you are another one in possession of a crystal ball!

      • neill February 1, 2014 at 8:41 am #

        I wasnt passing judgement on J Berry I was talking about myself and yes if my dad had been killed I most probably would want to inflict real pain on the person who did it out of rage and pain it is noble to forgive just not to sure I could do it though

  5. Den Duffin February 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Was talking to a guy from Newcastle[ not upon Shimna] a couple of years ago, and he said Magee is a hero in his community. Wonder how that would go down with the loyal subjects from east belfast?

  6. ANOTHER JUDE February 1, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    Sad but not really surprising to see the blatant sectarian attitudes at large in that part of Belfast. Some people simply do not believe in reconciliation or peace. I listened to Radio Six County Statelet, aka Radio North East Ulster the other morning, one chap in particular made it clear he would never sit down with Republicans/Nationalists/Catholics. He was so bitter he made `community worker` Jim Wilson sound like Gandhi.

  7. Liam mackel February 2, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    I would have loved to have gone to that event but after hearing abut the graffiti I sorta guessed what was going to insu. Pathetic because the people out side were the very people who maybe should have been inside educating them selves. Sad.